Saturday, 25 October 2014

002. Lest it be forgotten

And it shouldn't be.

A hundred years ago, a war of global proportions was declared. While on the surface, the murder of an Austrian archduke had triggered the war, in reality, age-old disputes and issues between nations in Europe brought the matter to a head. Just think of it like this: a couple who keep on dredging things up every quarrel until something major really happens--a turning point--then kaboom! It's an all out war. Since I am no war historian, and do not pretend to know everything (I do intend to do some more researching--probably during the holidays), I am only using that "couple" bit as an analogy. Nothing more, nothing less.

Not to digress, this war took as long as four years. Back then, people would say, "It would be over by Christmas." No, it wasn't. So many men killed--sons, brothers, husbands,  sweethearts, friends--dying like flies, by the millions. Many men were also injured (for reference, a rough estimate is found here). At that time, people went off to war to help fight that battle--to fight in "the war that will end all wars." Not true either. Look at World War II. But that war was the start of many changes in society. Women were able to do their part--they worked as nurses, cooks, ammunition factory workers, and even ambulance drivers. Am pretty sure that the list doesn't end there.

So why am I writing about this war? One reason is to give my respects to the fallen soldiers a hundred years ago, albeit indirectly. My grandfather was a soldier once, but in the Second World War. The Japanese occupied the Philippines during that time, and to use the word "nightmare" to describe the war was an understatement. Although it is a different war, people fought to make the world a safer, if not better place.

When I was a little girl, the only war I knew was World War II. And at that time, I didn't even know that it was the second, and that a first even existed. I only knew about the second war because my grandfather had been in it, and if only he were alive now, I would have asked him what it has been like. Most would have preferred to not talk about it because of the horrors they have seen, and I don't think I can stomach or handle the things they have experienced.

It was only in my grade school and high school days that I have learned that there was a World War I, but the history I have learned and remembered have only focused on the second. It got to a point that I had this sort of silent fascination with the history concerning the first. Probably because it was mostly in Europe so probably that's why my teachers never bothered to touch that topic. But I wish they did. It would have been a big help.

When I received this book as a birthday gift (I was 11 at the time, I think), the book immediately captured my interest. Lucy Maud Montgomery has always been one of my favourite authors. I may not have all her books, but I enjoy those that I have with me.  I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables, and every book was savoured. I knew I could do the same with Rilla of Ingleside.

Bertha Marilla Blythe, known to everybody as Rilla, was a vivacious, if rather vain and flighty girl at the start of the story. The youngest daughter of Dr. Gilbert Blythe and the ever lovable Anne Blythe (nee Shirley), she looks forward to her first grown-up party, and the prospect of beaux. She was, after all, almost fifteen, and most girls of her age at that time would be in higher education (if she is lucky enough to have parents that support that idea) or preparing themselves for the possibility of marriage and family. Given that Gilbert and Anne are both college graduates, most of their children are in college at the start of the story. Jem would be studying medicine, Walter, Nan and Di are in college, Shirley would be entering teachers' college. Rilla, Anne laments, seemed to only want to have a good time, and not have some sort of ambition.

However, Rilla's first grown-up party was a disaster--at least, to her, it was. Well, it had begun well, but it ended on a flat note. One of the guests announced that England has declared war on Germany, and from that night on, everything seemed to have happened quickly. Rilla's brothers fight, and so do her childhood friends. Her world, it seemed, was turned topsy turvy. She wasn't entirely a frivolous person, she went to do her bit and organised a Junior Red Cross unit in her village, and it was on her rounds of duty that she came across a baby. The baby was a boy, and his mother died. The father was away, fighting in the trenches across Europe. His grandmother did not seem to care, but something in Rilla felt that she shouldn't and couldn't leave the baby in his grandmother's indifferent hands. So she takes the baby home, causing her family to become surprised and maybe even a wee bit impressed.

Rilla of Ingleside, however, isn't written without an element of romance. Of course, there is romance! I do think that it's really hard to be a woman during the war, since you have to wave off your husband, sweetheart, son or brother, read the news, and anxiously wait. Rilla was no exception. Since her kiss from Kenneth Ford--a childhood friend, she was implicitly his sweetheart, and became, well, almost a statistic. Along with countless other women who wait, and do their bit, she contributed to the war effort by planning concerts for charity, rolling bandages, sewing (or rather hemming) blankets, and knitting socks. At the risk of becoming spoiler-ish, Rilla had a turning point in which a friend who to go and fight asked her to kiss him in friendship but couldn't because she promised Kenneth Ford that she would keep her lips for him.  At that point, she was good as engaged to him.

Death has touched the Blythe household, devastating Anne and Gilbert. But then again, going to fight in a war is a risk--and you can't tell if you would be able to come home. For those who have not read this book yet, I'm not telling who died, but it did cause me to use up a lot of tissues!

The book also proved educational. Before I read this book, I never knew that there were such places as Courcelette, Somme, Verdun, Brest Litovsk, Gallipoli, and Warsaw--I'm not kidding! I was only in fifth grade then, but still, it's pretty evident that there are plenty of things that I haven't read in history books in school! Reading Rilla of Ingleside was not only a lesson in European history--but also geography--it fueled my curiosity in reading about the Great War (as it was known then) in the encyclopedias in school.  Suffice to say, I was one weird kid then--but then, who cares?

I am writing this entry not only because of my fascination with the first World War, but also because in respect and honour to those men who have fought because they believed that the battle they fought would make a better world for the future generation.

This is also written to commemorate its centenary. We should not forget.


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